"I continue to find the Bible the most mysterious book - the more insight I gain, the more I realize how much I don't know. It inspires and encourages and it also frustrates and provokes." (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, pg. 41)
I've been reading Velvet Elvis for two days now. I have been meaning to read it since Erica and I first went to coffee in April. I finished Movement Two just a few minutes ago and I am so excited. I am excited because someone has not just told me it is okay to ask questions, but they have given me biblical support for my desires to ask questions (Bell, 30; Genesis 18). Abraham, the father of many nations, gets into this debate with God about whether or not the "Ruler of the earth" will do right. (Genesis 18) Are you kidding me? Abraham just asked God a question, and not any question, none of this "why is the sky blue" crap. No, he questioned the actions of God, he questioned God's judgement. Why did he question the judgement of God? Because he knows that his God is a loving God who cares for His people.
So I'm reading and I'm in Movement Two and I almost jump up and down. "Sometimes when people are backing up their points and the Bible is used to prove they are right, everything within me says, 'There is no way that's what God meant by that verse.'" (Bell, 43) Why the almost jumping? Because I think that. I wonder what version of the Bible several of our politicians are reading. I wonder what Bible leaders of several churches my loved ones attend are thinking. And I think, "there's no way that's what God meant by that verse!"
Bell further acknowledges something that I have thought for some time: the fact that the writers of the Bible were people within their own cultures who had been shaped socially before their writings. The analogies used, the language, the formats, these were all relevant and understood by those who read or heard these books at the time they were written. (Bell, 64 & 65) Does this mean that they are not relevant for us because we're not first century Greeks, Jews, Romans, etc? No. It means that there is a cultural context that is important to both acknowledge and understand before moving onto what it means for us today. Does that mean I/we/you have to do a big history report on 1 Corinthians before reading it? Absolutly not! God will work through His word whether I understand the historical context of the scriptures or not.
But here's why I started this. Here is what inspired me to, instead of climbing up into bed, sit down and write this. The importance of asking questions. Not arrogant questions that are vain attempts at disproving God (i.e. can God make a rock so heavy God can't lift it?). Questions that help me to further understand my God, my Creator, my Savior and my faith. "We have to embrace the Bible as the wild, uncensored, passionate account it is of people experiencing the living God. Doubting the one true God. Wrestling with, arguing with, getting angry with, reconciling with, loving, worshiping, thanking, following the one who gives us everything." (Bell, 63) Praise the Lord I'm allowed to doubt and question and get angry and attempt the silent treatment with, and love and cry out to in both healthy and despereately needy ways, the love of the living God, of my savior Jesus Christ. What a blessing that he welcomes and appreciates my questions. Because my questions are my way of learning more about God. They are the way I discover more of who God is and more of who God intends me to be.
"A Christian doesn't avoid the questions; a Christian embraces them. In fact, to truly pursue the living God, we have to see the need for questions. Questions are not scary. What is scary is when people don't have any. What is tragic is faith that has no room for them." (Bell, 28 & 29). Questions are scary when we are locked into a black and white belief system, a legalistic way of believing and understanding God. How arrogant to believe that we can create a set of rules, a system within which both we and God opperates, a set of rules for how we interact with, please, understand, serve, disobey, and worship God. One might argue that it is God who created this system. Why would an infinite God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Creator of everything that ever was, is, or will be place Himself within a set of guidelines and rules? Why would God limit Himself? The ultimate creative power decides to give Himself a set of rules by which He is to abide? My answer: I don't think so! No way. No stinkin' way.
At the end of Movement Two Bell mentions the story of Jacob wresting with the angel and how rabbis used this metaphor when they wrestle with a particularly difficult piece of Biblical text. Here's what Genesis 32: 24-31 says:
"So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, 'Let me go, for it is daybreak.' But Jacob replied, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.' The man asked him, 'What is your name?' 'Jacob,' he answered. Then the man said, 'Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel [d: Israel means he struggles with God], because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.' Jacob said, 'Please tell me your name.' But he replied, 'Why do you ask my name?' Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel [e: Peniel means face of God], saying, 'It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.' The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel [a: Hebrew Penuel, a variant of Peniel], and he was limping because of his hip."
"And some people have no limp, because they haven't wrestled. But the ones limping have had an experience with the living God." (Bell, 69) I love this invitation to wrestle with God, the story of Jacob wrestling with Him is so beautiful. They wrestle all night long, Jacob refusing to let go, demanding a blessing, knowing that his demand could be met with death because he is demanding something of God, a blessing nonetheless! But he hangs on because he knows this wrestling is significant.
I can read my Bible, I can learn things at church and in books, but what is the point if I just take them all in without questioning? Sure, I just quoted lots of what Bell has to say. I read Velvet Elvis and I underline lots of things and fill the margins with my notes on what he's said, the questions his writing provokes, my agreements and my disagreements. Because I have to. I cannot go through life without questioning what I encounter, the written, the seen, the heard, the felt. I am not a passive being. I was created to experience the life with which my Creator has blessed me. Passivity is a terrible way, in fact it is no way, to praise Him and respond to His gift of life, His gift of spiritual gifts and the talents with which He has created me. I choose limping and questions because through my questions, through delving deeper I don't figure it out, or get to be right or know The Meaning. I do get to seek and find Truth. And in that Truth I uncover more questions, and I ask and I cry and kick and srcream and laugh and smile and hold onto Him for dear life, and best of all we grow closer, God and I. I learn more about the Ultimate Mystery, the Creator, my God, my Creator, my Abba, Yahweh.